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New York meeting builds movement against Grand Jury, FBI repression of anti-war activists

By Maureen Murphy |
November 10, 2010
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Tom Burke speaking at Committee to Stop FBI Repression New York City meeting
Tom Burke speaking at Committee to Stop FBI Repression New York City meeting (Jed Brandt)

New York, NY - More than 150 movement leaders and concerned individuals packed a standing room-only hall at Saint Mark's Church in the Bowery on Nov. 6 for the first national meeting of the Committee to Stop FBI Repression.

The national committee was formed after 14 anti-war, international solidarity and labor activists were served subpoenas in late September to appear before a federal grand jury. Many of the activists' homes were raided, as were the offices of the Anti-War Committee in the Twin Cities. According to a statement made by the targeted activists, "The subpoenas claim that the grand jury is investigating violations of the 1996 law on the issue of 'material support' of 'designated foreign terrorist organizations.'" (http://www.stopfbi.net/about/statement-on-the-grand-juries)

The first national meeting was held as activists around the country prepare to mobilize for the anticipated reactivation of three subpoenas for Minneapolis anti-war organizers. The room resolved to hold emergency protests the day after it’s known activists have been called to appear before the Grand Jury and to call for a day of action for the subpoena court dates. The committee will also organize another call-in day to U.S. President Barack Obama and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder's offices.

At the meeting, Bruce Nestor of the National Lawyers Guild explained that the material support laws which are the basis of the investigation against the activists are "an attempt to repress U.S. activists' involvement in solidarity with liberation struggles" in places like Colombia and Palestine. Nestor said the material support laws prohibit providing any resources to groups unilaterally declared a terrorist organization by the Secretary of State, a designation virtually impossible to challenge.

Several of the targeted activists have participated in solidarity delegations to Colombia and Palestine. The governments of Colombia and Israel are among the top recipients of U.S. foreign and military aid and brutally repress those struggling for their rights and freedom under their rule.

Nestor also explained that the June 2010 Supreme Court decision on Holder vs. Humanitarian Aid was "a test case in which the court said that providing any service to a group designated as a terrorist organization, including training on nonviolent methods of conflict resolution" constitutes material support as it would "free up resources that could be spent by the organization on violent activity."

First amendment activity such as participating in international solidarity delegations, Nestor explained, can now serve as ‘probable cause’ for investigation by the U.S. government under the definition of ‘material support’ which was broadened by the Supreme Court's decision. As there "is no effective legal restraint on the government to go after international solidarity work," Nestor emphasized, "the only effective restraint is political."

The three activists in Minnesota expected to be re-subpoenaed will likely face the choice of testifying against other activists and the wider movement or detention for contempt of court. Whether the term of civil contempt will be shorter rather than longer, Nestor explained, "will be determined by the strength of the political pushback."

Chicago activist Hatem Abudayyeh - whose home was raided by a federal task force which confiscated "anything that had 'Palestine' written on it" - placed the raids and grand jury proceedings in the context of the decades of "systematic attacks on Palestine solidarity work in the U.S." These attacks began with the wave of Palestinian immigration to the U.S. following Israel's military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967 and has spiked sharply since Sept. 11 2001.

"The government is trying to criminalize our movement's work to support legitimate struggles for freedom across the world," Abudayyeh said.

Noor Elashi, daughter of Holy Land Foundation cofounder Ghassan Elashi, spoke at the meeting, describing how "U.S. government prosecutors said that the foundation's humanitarian aid donations to the Zakat or charitable committees in Palestine constituted material support." The Holy Land Foundation's offices were raided in December 2001 and less than three years later, Ghassan Elashi and four others involved with the foundation were arrested. After a short trial that resulted in a deadlocked jury, another jury was convened which gave guilty verdicts and decades-long sentences were issued. "With these material support laws," Elashi said, "it is possible to prosecute anybody and everybody, and everybody is at risk."

However, it was clear at the meeting that the government is up against a powerful movement that has organized demonstrations against the raids in more than 62 cities. Thousands have called in to Obama and Holder's offices, as well as U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald and an online petition has resulted in more than 200,000 letters to elected officials (http://www.iacenter.org/stopfbi/).

Anti-War Committee founder and targeted activist Jess Sundin reported on a successful effort in Minnesota to circulate a ‘dear colleague’ letter to Obama through the state legislature. Additionally, representatives Keith Ellison (D-MN) have given a commitment to circulate such a letter calling on the president to end the grand jury proceedings, investigate the FBI and reexamine the material support laws in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Tom Burke of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization said that in addition to these efforts there is now a speakers bureau and groups are encouraged to invite targeted activists to speak to their community. Furthermore, 120 solidarity statements have been posted on stopfbi.net and activists are encouraged to create and pass resolutions against the raids and grand jury proceedings in their various organizations. There has also been a lot of significant activity in the labor sector, faith organizations have issued a letter with a sign-on statement against the raids and civil rights organizations have held know-your-rights educational events. A student activist from California also reported that Students for a Democratic Society is coordinating an effort to reach out to prominent academics to sign on to a letter condemning the raids.

The room also passed a proposal for the formation of a national coordination committee that will meet via telephone conference every two weeks or as needed. The Committee to Stop FBI Repression is also setting up offices in the Twin Cities that will take on some of the day-to-day organizing work against the grand jury proceedings.

Sara Flounders, of the International Action Center, reminded the room that serious efforts to raise funds need to be undertaken. Individuals and groups from across the country pledged $5000 during the meeting. Flounders also emphasized that the targeted activists' immediate response to the raids and subpoenas was a call for the movement as a whole to stand up. "This is our movement's only protection and defense," she said.